“All of us have a light within us, and all of us have the same charge – to go forth and brighten the corner where we are,” said George Bolden, Jr., addressing family, friends and community members at the inaugural Patrolman Gregory W. Bolden Memorial Scholarship award ceremony on Oct. 29, 2010. As George, Jr., presented the scholarship – a memorial tribute to his beloved brother – he added the following words of encouragement to freshman recipient Yarinet Valle:
“Go forth with this scholarship, get your education, go into the community and make a difference!”
An 18-year veteran of the Providence Police Department and a Roger Williams alumnus, Patrolman Gregory W. Bolden earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the School of Justice Studies. Tragically, Bolden succumbed to a decade-long battle with neurosarcoidosis – a rare and incurable disease that attacks the central nervous system – just 10 days after receiving his master’s degree in May 2005.
Choosing a single means to memorialize his son was no easy task, says Bolden’s father, George, Sr. ’74. In a bittersweet remembrance, he explained that it was his son’s love of learning and commitment to his community that led the family to work with the Providence Police Department and Providence School Department to establish an endowed scholarship – one that will support academically qualified, underserved Roger Williams University students from the Providence public schools interested in a career in law enforcement or criminal justice – in Bolden’s name.
“Following Greg’s death, the family considered several ways we could pay tribute to his short but very productive life,” George, Sr., said. “He had a passion for learning, for education, for himself and for his two sons, and for other youth he came in contact with – particularly through community policing. This, to us, is the ultimate tribute. Today, the Patrolman Gregory W. Bolden Memorial Scholarship is a reality and Gregory’s name – his legacy – will endure as long as RWU will endure.”
Patrolman Bolden served in the patrol bureau, the mounted command and as a community police officer serving the Fox Point section of Providence’s East Side. An enthusiastic volunteer with the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club, the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and many community organizations, Bolden founded and headed P.R.A.Y.E.R. (Police Responsiveness and Yours Encourage Rebuilding) – a nonprofit devoted to fostering positive police/citizen relationships.
A leader by example, Bolden came from a family of community activists – led by George, Sr. – dedicated to giving back to those who were most disenfranchised. What began as a simple quest for a Boy Scout troop for his sons became a lifelong commitment to community for the Bolden family. When no troop existed in South Providence, George, Sr., created one and managed it for 11 years. Later, he played an essential role in establishing many community programs aimed at enhancing educational experiences for inner city youth, including the Youth Motivation Task Force and the TIMES2 Academy.
Today, he continues to volunteer his time and offer his guidance to the University’s Bridge to Success college prep mentoring program.
Col. Dean Esserman, chief of the Providence Police, commended George, Sr., for honoring his son’s legacy in a meaningful and transformative way:
“Actions speak louder than words,” Esserman said. “Officer Bolden was one of the first officers who embodied community policing in this department. What you have done, singlehandedly, is to keep your son’s memory alive and honor his legacy in this police department.”
The value of a scholarship fund for justice studies students is immeasurable, says School of Justice Studies Dean Stephanie Manzi, who remembers Bolden as a conscientious and passionate student.
“Students who choose to go into this field aren’t choosing it for the money; they do it for the love of giving back and making a difference,” she says. “Any bit of financial relief that a scholarship can provide them is critical.”
In an emotional, yet jubilant meeting with the Bolden family, Valle expressed her thanks and her motivation to live up to the award’s intent.
“I’m very honored to receive this wonderful scholarship; it’s very beneficial. As Col. Esserman said, actions do speak louder than words. I will keep up the good grades I have right now and strive for the best. I will not let the family down.”
For the Boldens, the scholarship’s success is just the beginning of a lifelong journey to remember Gregory in a way that would be meaningful to him – by giving his community the transformative gift of education, says George, Sr.
“In years to come we look forward to playing a part in the educational opportunities of countless numbers of students from the Providence Public School System.”
*This article was originally published in the 2009-2010 President's Report.